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Deer Spotting Around Charlecote

An easy walk into open countryside but you may ask where have all the deer gone?

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 33ft (10m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Field paths and farm tracks, 2 stiles

Landscape Gentle rolling countryside

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 205 Stratford-upon-Avon

Start/finish SP 262564

Dog friendliness Under control at all times

Parking National Trust visitors car park for Charlecote Park

Public toilets None on route

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1 From Charlecote Park car park, go left along the grass verge and cross over the River Dene. In about 100yds (91m), go left along a wide track that arcs left on to a clear fenced path by the side of the river and walk along for this about 1½ miles (2.4km) into the village of Wellesbourne. It was recorded in the Domesday Book as Walesborne. You will pass a pleasant weir before you come to a footbridge near St Peter's Church.

2 Go left over the footbridge and up a fenced path to the left of the church until you reach the village. Continue up the road to the left of house No 21 - the Kings Head pub is on the left - then cross the main road in the village and walk up Warwick Road opposite.

3 In about 300yds (274m), just after passing Daniell Road, go right along a tarmac path at the back of houses. Cross a footbridge and continue over several fields. Take the footpath to the left of the copse of trees, then go right into the woodland. Turn left along the track at the top of a hedge of trees. You will emerge from the trees for a short distance and then re-enter again. After you emerge for a second time, look for a hedge gap to the left.

4 Go through the gap and down footpaths to Middle Hill Farm.

5 Continue left, between the farm buildings, then go to the right of the farmhouse and walk along the farm drive for about ¾ mile (1.2km), passing the entrance to Coppington Farm on the way to the A429. Cross the road with care and go over the stile opposite on to a fenced footpath. After crossing another minor road continue along a concrete driveway past a brick farm building.

6 In about 100yds (91m), go left through a kissing gate into pastureland. A second kissing gate leads into a large field that you walk around by the field hedge. Go right, through a further kissing gate, and continue to the right of the field hedge until you go through a final kissing gate on to Charlecote Road. Go left along the footway past a delightful thatched cottage into the centre of Charlecote, then turn right along the grass verge of the main street past some lovely half-timbered houses and the Charlecote Pheasant Hotel, with St Leonard's Church opposite, to reach the Charlecote Park car park.

This walk starts in the delightful village of Charlecote, about 5 miles (8km) from Stratford-upon-Avon. There is an opportunity to visit the superb Charlecote Park (now cared for by the National Trust), which has been the home of the Lucy family since 1247. The route passes along the banks of the pretty River Dene to the edge of the village of Wellesbourne and then crosses farmland and farm lanes on its return to Charlecote, passing close to 19th-century Charlecote Mill.

Charlecote Park house comprises an Elizabethan house that is largely hidden from the road by a fine parapeted gateway with an oriel window above its arch. The hall was rebuilt in 1558 by Sir Thomas Lucy, in the shape of the letter E and is surrounded by a wonderful deer park. For over 200 years fallow deer have been bred from stock and have roamed freely in the large park. Until recently some 250 fallow deer and 150 red deer (introduced by Henry Spencer Lucy in the 1840s) shared the park. Sadly, during 2001-2, an outbreak of bovine tuberculosis disease forced the estate managers to cull the entire herd. Although 30 beasts were reintroduced in November 2002, the 100 or so Jacob sheep currently have much of the huge park to themselves.

It was in Charlecote Park that William Shakespeare is alleged to have been arrested for deer poaching. This is often cited as being the reason for his departure from Stratford for London in the mid-1580s. The legend continues that the Bard got his own back on Sir Thomas Lucy and made him the butt of the world's laughter by depicting him as Mr Justice Shallow in his play The Merry Wives of Windsor. Whether there is any truth in this story is debatable. Doubters will always point to the fact the deer park had not yet been developed at Charlecote in Shakespeare's day. What is certain is that Sir Thomas Lucy was locally unpopular as a Justice of the Peace, and the subject of several mocking ballads being sung in and around the pubs of Stratford at the time. Shakespeare would certainly have known of these and could easily have adopted the caricature for his play.

By the roadside on the edge of the grounds of Charlecote Park is St Leonard's Church. It stands on the site of an earlier 12th-century church which was demolished in 1849. Originally the church was part of the estate, paid for by Mrs Mary Elizabeth Lucy who laid the church's foundation stone which carries the following inscription - 'This stone was laid by Mary Elizabeth Lucy on the 5th of April A.D. 1850, who, in erecting this church devoutly prayed that it might tend to the glory of God.' The rites of consecration were performed on 2 February, 1853 by Bishop Pepys of Worcester. Inside the church is the Lucy Chapel which holds the 17th-century tombs of three Sir Thomas Lucys.

Where to eat and drink

The Charlecote Pheasant Hotel is a popular eating place for ramblers and for local organisations. It has a fine lounge, can cater easily for large numbers and offers an excellent carvery. In Wellesbourne the walking route goes close to the Kings Head pub. Children are allowed in the pub but dogs are restricted to the gardens. You may be tempted by their excellent bacon and cheese melt.

While you're there

Perhaps visit Charlecote Mill and see the 19th-century mill grind corn by water power. There has been a mill on the site since the Norman Conquest, but the present one was built in about 1800. It stopped grinding corn by waterpower in 1939 but has since been restored. In 1983 it was acquired by the present owner and brought back into full time use. Call (01789) 842072 to confirm your visit.

What to look for

As well as visiting Charlecote Park, take some time to explore the village of Wellesbourne and seek out Chestnut Square in Wellesbourne Mountford. There is a distinctive thatched pub, the Stags Head, in a corner. A plaque in the bus shelter records that it was here, in 1872, that Joseph Arch inaugurated the first trade union for agricultural workers. Each year the event is remembered with an annual parade.

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